Saturday, 17 December 2011

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Holmes Is Where The Heart Is

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows 2011 US
Directed by Guy Ritchie
Screening at UK cinemas.

Warning: Elementary logic should lead you to deduce the presence of spoilers lurking in the shadows of this review.

Ok then. Since I’m really not a lover of gangster pictures (seen enough gangsters in my school days to ever really feel the need to watch glamourised renditions of these hooligans) I’d never seen a Guy Ritchie movie until his first take on Sherlock Holmes a few years back.

Now I’ve always loved the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce versions of Holmes and Watson at the cinema (even though Bruce’s Watson is far from accurate to the original material) and so the prospect of seeing Holmes modernised into an action hero was less than appealing at the time and I was in two minds whether to see it or not until an old friend expressed an interest in going and dragged me into London with her to check it out.

As it happens, I really enjoyed myself with that first movie. Holmes hadn’t been made into the complete buffoon I’d feared and the introduction of action sequences that I’d worried about so much (forgetting that Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation actually was into bare knuckle boxing at one point in his career) was cleverly underpinned with a bullet-time like series of slow motion sequences which showcased Holmes’ keen speculative intellect in fighting intelligently before the shots were replayed at normal speed to show multiple facet’s of Holmes in what turned out to be an intriguing and hugely entertaining series of set pieces.

Added to this were the shining acting talents of Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law and their various co-stars... not to mention Hans Zimmer’s gorgeous score which still gets regular spins in my CD player. Frankly, that first Guy Ritchie Holmes’ movie was damn good.

Which is why I was, perhaps, just a little disappointed with Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows, being Ritchie’s second foray into the world of pulp fiction’s greatest super sleuth and also my second Guy Ritchie movie. But, having said that, I do find myself wondering just why I felt this one didn’t live up to the blood and thunder of the first movie.

Certainly, this one in set on a larger scale with only a small portion of it set in England and I did enjoy the sense of Victorian London that Ritchie managed to squeeze into every frame of the first film. This feels conspicuously absent in parts of this one. And it’s not like this international road-trip of a movie doesn’t hang together as well as it should either... all the threads come together and make perfect sense as the film builds up to Holmes’ famous “last stand” at the Reichenbach Falls... and we all know how that one ends. Actually, this is one sequence where I think Ritchie (or at least the suits pushing the buttons in Hollywoodland) let the movie down a bit as this movie leaves viewers in no doubt as to the final outcome of that infamous fight and it would have perhaps have been a stronger ending if the producers had been brave enough to have left Holmes for dead (as he was for a time before Doyle resurrected the character some years later) for a while and followed up in the next movie in the series... rather than bring Holmes back at the end of this one. Missed opportunity I feel... and more than a little gutless.

Hmmm... well since I can’t seem to adequately explain why this one didn’t quite pass muster with me, I can only assume that this is one of those handful of Hollywood blockbusters which actually takes a little while to grow on you and I suspect that, when the time comes to pick up the DVD (and I will), I’ll enjoy it much more on the second viewing than I did the first.

So let me tell you about the good things this movie’s got going for it.

Well, for one thing... Guy Ritchie has a marvellous, extended, slow motion escape/chase sequence about three quarters of the way through the movie and though I’m not exactly a fan of slow motion in movies (except when a true artist like Dario Argento uses it at the end of Four Flies On Grey Velvet, for example) this sequence was a bit of a tour-de-force and it was a pleasure to watch the way various actions and details had been cinematically “enhanced”, pushing at the visual language of the form in a rather attractive manner. The acting performances were, once again, all top notch although I did feel that the chemistry between Holmes and Watson was a little less brighter than in the last movie. Also, Eddie Marsden’s brilliant portrayal of Inspector Lestrade is sidelined to what amounts to a little cameo role at the end of the movie and Stephen Fry’s inclusion as Mycroft Holmes is immensely watchable but, not necessarily a very faithful rendition of the character (again, I blame that one on the writers myself).

Jared Harris’ performance as Moriarty was an absolute casting coup and I found myself very impressed by the way the high intellect of the character was combined within the animally magnetic personae of this bear of a man. Such a perfect choice and pitch perfect performance as Moriarty, culminating with a speculative slow-motion “pre-fight” fight sequence in which both the minds of Holmes and the nefarious Napoleon of crime were equally engaged... the “telepathic” communication between the two (yeah, you changed the rules there didn’t you Ritchie... I saw!) forcing Holmes to quickly tip the scales and sacrifice himself to stop Moriarty dead.

On the other hand, Noomi Rapace (who played Lisbeth Salander in the original adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and its sequels), while being unbelievably brilliant in her performance and also being in possession of one of the most distinctive and beautiful faces of any actresses working in her profession, was a little bit wasted in a role which tended to sideline her talents a little too much. Which is a shame and a mistake on the writers/producer’s parts because, frankly, when she’s on screen she absolutely lights it up and she’s the one you are watching when the other actors are speaking their lines. Absolutely great screen presence.

Another downer in this one is the fact that, while I appreciated the humour at Holmes expense in the original movie, the character is treated somewhat more as a joke in this one. Holmes’ fire is somewhat subdued by his treatment at the hands and attitudes of the other characters this time around and I could have done with a few more scenes of him asserting his intellectual rigor over scenes of him fannying around in ladies dresses and suffering the indignity of riding a mule instead of a horse.

Talking of which... Zimmer’s score is, once more, an excellent contribution to the movie as a whole (and I’m sure once I hear it out of the context of its place in the sound mix of the actual film I’ll appreciate it even more) but I was surprised and dismayed to hear him doing a reorchestrated cover version of Ennio Morricone’s musical score to the film Two Mules For Sister Sara during the “Holmes rides a mule” sequence instead of coming up with something of his own. A possible case of temp-trackitus I expect. That being said, of course, it was a more than competent cover (of a much better original) and does nothing to detract from the rest of his brilliant score.

And that’s about it for this one. An entertaining but somewhat less satisfying confection of a movie than the previous film, this one is still worth a watch if you’re a fan of that original outing and the spectacle of some of Guy Ritchie and his team’s mise-en-scene and editing style is surely worth a look if you get the chance. I’m not the biggest fan of this one... yet. I do, however, think it will probably strike me as a better movie when the DVD comes out and I’ve had time to let the first impressions sink in a bit better. Nevertheless, a fine film to view as part of this year’s Christmas viewing... if one has nothing better to do.

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